The 2015 Oscar Nominations’ (Few) Good and (Many) Bad Surprises

Best Foreign Language Film

Wild Tales

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: We already had an idea of some obvious, and surprising, pass-overs via the previously released shortlist: Cannes Palme d’or winner Winter Sleep, Xavier Dolan’s beloved Mommy, and the terrific Two Days One Night (whose exclusion here seems even more striking now that Cotillard nabbed a Best Actress nod). From the shortlist, I can’t even begin to guess how Force Majeure missed — particularly since it was one of the most widely seen and discussed films in contention.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: It certainly seemed possible that those Wild Tales might prove a little too wild for voters, but that minor note aside, these all seemed plausible.

Best Documentary Feature
Finding Vivian Maier

Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth


SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Again, we had a shortlist to work from, so those paying attention had already blown their stacks over a few conspicuously missing titles (The Unknown Known, Whitey, Point and Shoot, Happy Valley). But there are some real puzzlers here. The big shock is the lack of love for Life Itself, one of the most acclaimed documentaries of the year — beloved by critics, to whom it’s kind of a big love letter, but still. (Worth noting: this is the third time, after Hoop Dreams and The Interrupters, that the documentary branch has given director Steve James the shaft.) Also on the shortlist but not the final ballot: Nick Broomfield’s mesmerizing Tales of the Grim Sleeper, the moving Overnighters, the powerful Kill Team, the ingenious Art and Craft, and the wickedly entertaining Jodorowsky’s Dune.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Last Days in Vietnam is very good! It also feels very much like a well-made PBS documentary (which it was), so it beating out the aforementioned titles is a bit of a shock. (Then again, maybe not: the doc branch has always leaned super-traditional.) And The Salt of the Earth’s nomination may have more to do with the name of co-director Wim Wenders than the actual splash the movie made (which was pretty minimal).

Still image from "The LEGO Movie"

Best Animated Feature Film
The Boxtrolls
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Y’know, we get the feed we cultivate, but the second-biggest surprise from my Twitter timeline (after all those Selma misses) was The LEGO Movie getting left out here. It is a bit of a shock, following its equally surprising loss of this prize to Dragon 2 at the Golden Globes; everybody seemed to loooove that movie, but the party is over, apparently.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: The animation branch actually has a pretty decent history of including independent and foreign animated titles in their nominees (previous examples: Ernest & Celestine, A Cat in Paris, The Illusionist, Chico and Rita, The Wind Rises). Still, it was a bit surprising to see The LEGO Movie get passed over for the far lesser-known Song of the Sea and Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

Best Original Song
“Everything Is Awesome,” The LEGO Movie
“Glory,” Selma
“Grateful,” Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glenn Campbell: I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars,” Begin Again

SURPRISING EXCLUSIONS: Considering their Golden Globe nominations and marquee names, Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat” (from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1), Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye’s “Mercy Is” (from Noah), and Lana Del Rey’s “Big Eyes” (you know) seemed like pretty safe bets — though it’s important to remember that this nominating branch is kinda bonkers.

SURPRISING INCLUSIONS: Since Beyond the Lights was generally ignored all fall and “Grateful” wasn’t popping up in any predictions lists, this one was a bit of a jaw-dropper — though it should be noted that composer Dianne Warren is an Oscar fave with six previous nominations (including, and you might want to sit down for these, Mannequin’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” Up Close and Personals “Because You Loved Me,” and Armageddon’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” aka the Jukebox from Hell). Word around the campfire is she did some personal campaigning on this one.

Still image from "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

A few other stray observations:

  • Among the most egregious but least-discussed of Selma’s exclusions was Bradford Young for Best Cinematography; Young (who also shot, beautifully, A Most Violent Year) is a black cinematographer who understands that you actually have to light and photograph people of color differently. His work on Selma is stunning, so yet another bummer in that column.
  • A big surprise in the editing category: nothing for Birdman, in spite of the skill with which its editors hid the stitches and cuts that made the movie seem like it was (mostly) all one shot. Once again, “Best Editing” seems to mean “Most Editing.”
  • Considering all of the people complaining about Interstellar’s muddy sound mix, the nominations for sound mixing and sound editing should prove quite controversial with your geekiest of film geek friends.
  • Best Production Design to the rinky-dink-looking Into the Woods? Are you fucking serious?
  • Perceived frontrunner Boyhood actually doesn’t top the nominations tally (thanks to its lack of technical nods); it has six, compared to nine each for Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
  • Those nine nominations make this easily the biggest year to date for Wes Anderson; he’d previously received only three total nominations in three different years, two for screenplay (The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom), one for animated feature (Fantastic Mr. Fox). He matches those three this year alone: for screenplay, direction, and picture.
  • Unsurprisingly, the squaresville Academy didn’t show much love for the other idiosyncratic filmmaking Anderson; Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice received only two nominations, for costume design and adapted screenplay. (Unbroken and Into the Woods got three.) Also receiving two nominations: Guardians of the Galaxy. Also: Selma. More on that to come…